AGRICULTURE

Maple syrup production underway

Sugar shacks throughout the state have gotten an early jump on maple syrup production this year, good news in the weeks leading up to Maine Maple Sunday, a showcase for the production of syrup around the state. The majority of business for about 100 syrup producers in the state occurs on the fourth Sunday in March, Maine Maple Sunday. This year, the 33rd annual event happens to fall on Easter. Maine produced the third-most maple syrup in the U.S. last year, behind Vermont and New York, according to a report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture The state made 16 percent — or 553,000 gallons — of the 3,414,000 gallons produced in the country. Maine’s production increased by 8,000 gallons of maple syrup compared to the 2014 total, even though the number of taps was the same. Read the story

BANKING & FINANCE

VC firm pledges support of Maine entrepreneurs

A national venture-capital firm that targets areas where startups are underserved has pledged to help Maine entrepreneurs. Village Capital, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm, launched VilCap Communities on Thursday, an initiative to partner with startup organizations and direct $50,000 to emerging entrepreneurs. The group selected 16 cities, including Portland, where startup communities are underserved by conventional financing. VilCap intends to work with Maine Accelerates Growth, a network of partners helping entrepreneurs, to identify, support and fund a local startup working in the food or agriculture industries. Read the story

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Biddeford mill project moves forward

A $65 million project to renovate the Lincoln Mill into market-rate apartments will move forward after the Biddeford Planning Board approved changes to the proposal. The Planning Board on Wednesday approved an amended site plan and granted LHL Holdings LLC and developer Tim Harrington a waiver allowing an additional 79 parking spaces. Harrington plans to transform the former textile mill into 181 apartments, a fitness club and restaurant. Harrington originally proposed a $50 million hotel with apartments and two restaurants, but announced in February that the first phase of development would instead double the number of apartments. He plans to build a stand-alone hotel during the second phase and will increase his total investment in the project from $62 million to $65 million. Read the story

LABOR

Tight labor pool awaits Wayfair in southern Maine

Some job market analysts expect Wayfair, an e-commerce company that makes and sells home goods, may have a difficult time meeting its staffing needs in the state’s extremely tight job market, especially given that the company has provided little information about what it intends to pay workers in Maine. The state essentially reached full employment in December. Wayfair recently announced it intends to bring 500 full-time, sales jobs to Brunswick and 450 customer service jobs to Bangor. A manager at the Southern Midcoast CareerCenter in Brunswick said it’s difficult to predict how successful Wayfair will be at hiring the employees it seeks there, because the company has not responded to the center’s request for information about job requirements and pay, and the area has a 2.7 percent unemployment rate. In Bangor, the company expects to tap former L.L. Bean employees. The outdoor gear company is closing a call center there later this spring. Read the story

MANUFACTURING

Financing approval will allow Verso to continue mill operations

Verso Corp. has received approval for $600 million in financing that will allow the paper maker to continue operations through its bankruptcy. Verso, which operates a mill in Jay where 550 people are employed, said in a media release late Wednesday that it received final approval from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the District of Delaware for several motions related to its voluntary restructuring under Chapter 11. The financing approval authorizes Verso to, among other things, continue to pay employee salaries, wages and benefits, make qualified retirement plan payments, honor customer programs and pay suppliers. Additionally, the financing gives the company significant operational flexibility and enough liquidity to continue operating for the foreseeable future, said the release. It filed for bankruptcy Jan. 26 to reorganize in the face of the strong dollar, cheaper imports and reduced demand for its coated paper. Read the story

FISHING

Lobster season expected to get early start

This year’s lobster season is likely to begin earlier than normal because of warming water in the Gulf of Maine. The forecast – calling for a 55 percent chance of an “extremely early” start to the season, meaning at least three weeks before the traditional start in early July – was released Thursday by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, which bases its projections on water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine. The institute said there’s a 41 percent chance of a “very early” start – by two weeks – and a 4 percent chance of a one-week early start. Last year, the GMRI forecast called for a 78 percent chance of a normal or one-week late start to the season, which proved accurate. Read the story

ECONOMY

Maine’s GDP spikes in Q3

The retail and service sectors combined to produce robust economic gains in Maine last summer. The state’s economy posted healthy growth from July through September, with the third-quarter output of goods and services rising 2.5 percent, the biggest increase in the region. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which released its report Wednesday, Maine’s increase ranked 16th in the U.S. Nationally, the GDP rose 1.9 percent in the third quarter – a sharp drop from the 3.8 percent growth in the second quarter of 2015 – and New England’s GDP as a whole rose 2.0 percent. Retail trade contributed 0.54 percentage points to the state’s overall growth, and health care and social assistance contributed 0.58 percentage points. Construction also picked up in the quarter, along with manufacturing of non-durable goods – products expected to last three years or less. Read the story

Insurance rates remain low

Mainers continues to enjoy some of the lowest rates in the country for home and auto insurance. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners ranks Maine third in the nation for lowest average auto insurance premiums, and 10th for lowest average homeowners premiums. It’s the third year in a row Maine has ranked No. 3 for auto insurance, according to a release from Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa. Maine ranked 10th nationally for the lowest average homeowners premiums, as it did in the previous year’s report. It also has the lowest homeowners premiums in New England, according to the release. Read the story

RETAIL

Sporting goods store files for bankruptcy

Sports Authority is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move that could affect its two stores in Maine. The retailer said Wednesday that it plans to close or sell about 140 stores and two distribution centers, in Denver and Chicago. The Englewood, Colorado, company has 463 stores in 41 states and Puerto Rico. A court filing by the company said liquidation sales at up to 140 stores will begin Friday if the company wins approval for its motion from a bankruptcy judge. The Wall Street Journal reported that it has obtained a marketing document listing all of the stores slated for sale, which includes the store at 730 Center St. in Auburn. A spokeswoman for the company said she could not confirm any store closures. The chain operates one other store in Maine in South Portland at the Maine Mall. Read the story

ENERGY

Oil prices continue slide

Heating oil prices have dropped again, with the statewide average down to $1.69 a gallon, the Governor’s Energy Office said Wednesday. According to the office, the statewide average dropped 2 cents a gallon from last week. The average price for kerosene also declined by two cents, to $2.26 a gallon, while propane prices for residential heating customers rose a penny a gallon to an average of $2.23 per gallon. Heating oil prices ranged from an average of $1.65 in the southwestern part of the state to $1.82 a gallon in northern Maine. Read the story